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What Happens When You Send a Letter to Santa Claus?

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Yes, Virginia, Santa does read his mail. 

Every year, millions of kids around the globe communicate with Jolly Old St. Nick the old-fashioned way: Pen (or crayon) and paper. The top three countries that generate snail mail to Santa send more than 4 million letters annually: CNN estimates that 1.7 million come from France, 1.35 million are sent from Canada, and more than a million letters are written in the U.S. (The United States Postal Service doesn’t have an exact number, but says the number of letters to Santa from American kids is “easily in the millions.)

That’s a lot of correspondence. So what happens to all of it? Well, as with any other piece of mail, it depends on how the letter was addressed.

In 1912, the U.S. Postmaster General gave local postmasters the authority to allow employees and citizens to answer letters addressed to Santa. It eventually became known as Operation Santa, and today, multiple locations across the U.S. participate in the program to help deliver gifts to needy children. Those who want to play elf for the season can drop by any one of them and select a letter (or letters) to Santa to fulfill. If you don’t have a participating post office in your area, you can volunteer to start an Operation Santa in your city or donate to an existing location.

The USPS has another program called Letters to Santa, which guarantees children a response from the North Pole, but no presents. Parents mail their children’s letters to the “North Pole Postmark Postmaster,” along with Santa’s response and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The North Pole Postmark Postmaster will return the letter to the child with a special postmark from Santa.

The U.S. isn’t alone in its Yuletide philanthropy—there are similar Santa programs around the globe. The Royal Mail makes sure kids who send letters to Mr. Claus receive a response, as does the Canada Post, which even gives the big guy the custom postal code “H0H 0H0.” Brazil has Papai Noel dos Correios, a program similar to Operation Santa. And in France, any child who writes to Le Père Noël will receive a response from a post office dedicated specifically to the cause. In fact, since 1962, receiving a response from Le Père Noël is actually guaranteed by law, bringing new meaning to that whole "naughty or nice" thing.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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